Top 20 Versions Of Phish’s ‘Weekapaug Groove’
Most people probably think the task of creating a list that ranks a Phish song that has been performed a staggering 426 times would be a daunting and futile task. In actuality, it’s very simple. There is a trick. All you have to do is identify any time that you hear Jon Fishman’s voice and you’ve already done 80 percent of the heavy lifting. See, the vast majority of great “Weekapaug Grooves” contain some element of unfettered outcry of enthusiasm or exuberant yowling from the charismatic drummer. The rest is cream cheese: just look for the highest number of guitar notes per millisecond, multitudes of tempo and genre changes, and references to other songs or themes. Presto, there it is: my Top 20 “Weekapaug Grooves” of all time.
In all seriousness, this list is relevant as we gear up for the upcoming Madison Square Garden run, because arguably no song historically delivers over the holidays like “Weekapaug Groove.” Perhaps it’s the simple three chord structure that makes it so easy to explore and incorporate whimsical thematic elements or maybe it’s just the high spirited energy of the music, but nevertheless the shows surrounding New Year’s Eve always bring out the best in the song. With that in mind, this list will hopefully revisit some great memories or reveal some new renderings of one of Phish’s classic jam vehicles.
When it comes to Halloween shows, Phish rarely ever drops any tangible hints in the shows leading up to the musical costume sets. In fact, usually they go out of their way to throw us off the scent – like in 1995 with all the Michael Jackson teases. In retrospect, however, they gave a bit of a clue back in 1996 when percussionist Karl Perazzo – a longtime Phish collaborator and friend from the band’s days opening for Santana – joined the band for the full show preceding the Halloween gig in Atlanta. Given the fact that Talking Heads’ Remain In Light is the album made famous for the percussive polyrhythms and communal group jamming style of songwriting, the inclusion of a percussionist with Perazzo’s style tipped the hat a bit to the direction of the album selection. In that preceding Florida show, we hear the only recorded version of “Weekapaug” with percussion accompaniment, and it provides a real driving chug to the song throughout. The “Mike’s Song” from this show is legendary, but don’t sleep on the “Weekapaug.”
Among the many memorable holiday “Weekapaugs,” the 1998 first set heater ranks up there with the favorites. After opening the show with the timely Prince classic, “1999,” Trey rebooted the chords on top of Mike’s bass and got the crowd going absolutely bananas from the get go. The energy never let up and Trey took charge with a crowd pleasing octave vamp before taking it home in a million note climax. Rarely does the New Year’s Eve show wind up being the crowd favorite, but thanks in part to this “Weekapaug,” many fans agree that 1998 is one year that the big show took home top honors as best show of the run.
This will probably be among the most controversial additions to the list because it’s 2.0, but don’t judge a book by its cover. This one holds up. Considering this version took place just a few days prior to Coventry the difference in quality is stark. This “Weekapaug” includes an impromptu theme that manifests itself in the middle of the jam. The “Weekapaug” from the August ’04 run has a really unique and powerful theme throughout, which ultimately winds down into a super-slow jam with some really funky bass. Much like the “Cavern” from the Island Tour, it’s amazing how good some of these Phish songs sound when they simply slow them down. In a way it’s a shame Phish didn’t just hang it up for 2.0 after these Mansfield shows, because this would have left a far less bitter taste for the next five years. Finally, this “Weekapaug” includes Trey’s “demystification” of the story behind the song itself as Trey discusses the band singing along to Frankie Valli in 1987 while driving through Rhode Island in the band’s Plymouth Voyager.
It’s amazing how many best-ever renditions came out of the Island Tour. “Weekapaug” isn’t even usually one of the most memorable tunes of the run, but it’s a classic that kicks its first big shot of energy when Trey executes a big ascending lick that elicits a roar from the crowd. From there, it works its way through a jam on what would later become “Mozambique” and “Crosseyed and Painless” vocal and guitar teases. Finally, as with almost everything Island Tour, there’s a nice long section of dark Phish funk.
This is kind of the Mighty Ducks of “Weekapaugs” due to the triple deke finishing move whereby Phish fakes not one, not two, but three endings.
15. 8/4/2015, Ascend Amphitheater, Nashville, TN
Coming straight out of “Crosseyed and Painless” and highlighted by a dark jam that sounds like it belongs on a Blue Öyster Cult album, Phish delivered arguably the first truly monumental “Weekapaug” since returning in 2009. Both the bass and guitar sunk into unfathomably low registers and drove this “Weekapaug” into frightening 1970s arena rock terrain while Mike and Trey stood side by side stomping like Godzilla. Classic evil metal Phish.
Phish’s two night stand at the Paradiso brought so many deeply exploratory jams that by comparison the “Weekapaug” seems almost by the book, but bass-wise this performance is an all-time stand out. From the get go Mike brings notable confidence and playfulness, but it’s the mid song slap bass groove that distinguishes this version and drives the jam deep into a full band disco sashay.
Another New Year’s show, another stellar Garden variety “‘Paug.” This one gets into to some crushing speed metal licks in the middle of the jam that elicit a giant crowd response and from then on Trey kicks into ludicrous speed. This 18-minute take wraps up with a series of solos from each member of the band as well as some funny banter from Trey encouraging Fish to “give it to us, man” referring to him taking a little solo break.
This frenzied rendition from the famed “Wipe Out” show is so far out that Phish.net officially notes a “Weekapaug Reprise” on the setlist. What happens is after the band takes the “Weekapaug” jam into an instrumental spin on the surf blues classic, “Wipe Out” – a theme that they repeatedly hammered throughout the night – they formally end the song, but then restart again and proceed to take the song into uncharted territories for another nine minutes. Fans of high energy Phish cite this second set as having some of the craziest crowd energy of the era.
This is one of the more gimmick-laden on the list, but it’s still a gem. It’s almost tough to tell if it’s “Weekapaug” or “Antelope,” as there is a defined “Antelope” jam in here, even with a, “Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul” and some audible “Run Run Run” from the crowd. As if that’s not enough, Trey dabbles a little “2001” into a phenomenal, humongous finale.
As we enter the Top 10, we take a time machine back to the renaissance period of the “Weekapaug” for three in row from the spring of 1993. This Colgate depiction takes an idiosyncratic approach to the improvisation as Trey lands on a beautiful melodic guitar pattern that lasts for over two minutes before returning home for a big climax. This is one of those moments where it feels as though the band wrote a song within a song, because it sounds too thoughtful and organized to simply be created on the spot.
The Crest “Weekapaug” is just a classic all-around version. This show was heavily circulated due to the fact that the show contained a full Gamehendge performance, so most fans know this show inside and out. Fishman keeps a fairly straight ahead rhythm pulsing throughout which leads to cohesive interplay between all band members. Clocking in around eight minutes, nothing feels too long or too short and the band does a perfect job building up the tension before releasing into a yet another wild ’93 ending.
The band fires on all cylinders during this “‘Paug” before expertly segueing into the first “Makisupa Policeman” in 322 shows. After a brief run through “Makisupa,” the band works their way back into “Weekapaug.” The second segment of “Weekapaug” includes some of the fastest Trey riffs you’ll ever hear. Fans of the speed and precision of 1993 will love this sandwich version.
This “Weekapaug” reading grabs the reins early and goes full tilt to all the way the finish line. There are no frills or quirks to speak of here just a beginning to end amazing piece of high energy Phish. We get some of Page’s finest organ playing on a “Weekapaug” with Trey and Mike working the fast funk with lots of staccato grooves and stop/start punches. Instead of returning to a traditional “Weekapaug” ending, Trey takes the improvisation into a blues jam that leads directly into “Character Zero” to keep the set‘s energy peaking.
This extra lengthy holiday “Weekapaug” is chock full of goodies. First off, the jam that kicks off around seven minutes in, led by Mike, sounds almost like that awesome Alan Parsons’ song that they use to introduce Chicago Bulls games, “And now, the starting lineup for your world champion Chicago Bulls!” From there, we get all kinds of playful vocal weirdness, a syncopated funk groove, and a climax that contains both a rare non-New Year’s Eve “Auld Lang Syne” tease and a crushing “Little Drummer Boy” jam.
Don’t ever let anyone call you a noob for wooing, because the kids were wooing way back in 1992. In fact, we may need a fact checker here, but I believe this is first known origin of the woo. Mike opens this beast with a wicked goblin bass sound and the weirdness never stops. This is one of those classic old “Weekapaugs” that highlights the stark difference of how the band used to approach this thing compared to today. They used to take major chances by dropping into other keys or even going into complete discordant segments to allow the resolve back to the original key to have a powerful endorphin release. This is one of the most playful and risk-taking “Weekapaugs” in existence with numerous distinctive elements. Early in the song they do some vocal yodeling, which Trey simultaneously emulates on his guitar. They later include a variety of impromptu call outs including an Oom Pa Pa signal and a Random Note from the secret language. Finally, a dark jam section consists of a period of starts and stops which incites the woos, before the song resolves back into a frenetic return to soloing.
You could easily make a case for this Hersheypark version being even higher on the list as it has a really unique full band jam style to it that is borne out of the equally powerful preceding “Mike’s Song.” The odd part is this version has no Mike bass intro, so it would be almost criminal to call the best ever version one without Mike’s signature bass part to kick it off. This one barrel rolls straight through from the “Mike’s Song” and it doesn’t stop. The highlights here are the trance-like jam early led by Page in the song and the well-defined octave-based theme Trey subsequently concocts, which ultimately forms the backbone for the rest of the song. If there was a category for most danceable “Weekapaug,” this would probably take it.
This is probably one of the most famous “Weekapaugs,” as December 6, 1996 is widely considered a legendary night, more so given the big Live Phish/DVD/in-store multimedia release a few years back. Despite the Elvises, Les Claypool, and a terrific “Hood,” the “Weekapaug” is easily the highlight of the show due to the powerful stop/starts which set it apart from the average rendition. It seems like the band must have practiced this, because they start on a dime at the peak of the jam and bust right back in on that very same dime. It’s a really impressive feat, and surprising they have never really returned to it in this manner as it takes the song to new heights.
The best way to describe the “Weekapaug” from the well-worn crowd favorite ’95 NYE show is it is just like the size of the sleeping quarters at the Hotel Pennsylvania: tight. This version is rather unique in that the “Weekapaug” stands alone in the set without big brother. The “Mike’s Song” closed down the second set, so “Weekapaug” actually follows out of the third set opening “Auld Lang Syne.” This 18-minute heavyweight takes us on an odyssey of high-energy jams, reggae and mellow ambient sections before being treated to a nifty “Auld Lang Syne” tease. Mainly it’s just the really crisp playing that makes this one special with notably fast and aggressive playing from Page.
When it comes to “Weekapaugs,” this is the protean version as it goes just about everywhere, fluidly. It kicks off with Fishman getting shifty, hitting his snare on different beats and almost giving off the feeling that it is falling apart, but it ultimately sets into a slower funky beat. Before long, sure enough, we wind up knee deep in ’97 funk. Six minutes of arena rock later, they finally wind through a little synth-infused jam before closing out with one of the grandest “Weekapaug” rapid fire finales to date. If you ever need help describing “machine gun Trey” to somebody, this ending here is your dictionary definition.